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Plural in the Singular. Presenting the Disparate

Remarks on an aspect of production
by Peter Herbstreuth

Bodo Korsig is one of those artists who have lost all naive confidence in images and drawn conclusions in their disillusionment. Korsig’s constructs are supposed to anonymously signify a lot, and also themselves. This paradoxical entanglement demands a shift in the priorities of perception.

One, none, a hundred thousand. Marcel Duchamp’s misleading statement that „the observer makes the work“ granted the public a licence to judge, and transformed everyone into an author. Yet this ascribed authorship has become a contentious point, having turned out to be a licence for thousand-fold whimsy. Duchamp’s formulation has links with both the surrealist technique of free association and a pathos of freedom, as much as with the witty exaggerations of Dada. When the everyday itself is fantastic and objet trouvé and montage can testify to this, then the borders between art on the one hand, and non-art, existence, being, life, on the other, have undergone a provocative shift. Yet not every day-dream fantasy of a viewer in front of an image can be equated with the artist’s formal-aesthetic fantasy, nor can it be replaced at will by authorship. Nevertheless, Korsig’s drawing, prints, encaustic paintings and wall works invite us, at first sight, to freely fantasize, and the interpreters follow their associations like a shower of images raining down from a bright sky. As Korsig’s works are imaginative projections, attempts are made to elucidate the interpretative construction by recourse to the viewer’s history of consciousness. What is often overlooked is the fact that it is the artworks themselves which do, suggest and depict something that cannot simply be made short work of. Initially the viewer is a recipient, not an author. The suggestive forms of Korsig’s works create a wealth of associations and at first arouse contradictory feelings: „cold / warm, sensitive / cruel“. 1 This is the result of a deliberate production procedure. For Korsig uses the mainly dark shades as energy carriers to emotionally condition the viewer, and he sets his sign programme at ambiguity.

Contradictory visual communication. The artist circumspectly processes models from the world of microbiology (synapses, cells). This reduction to elementary signs suggests similarities with the familiar and gives the compelling impression of déjà-vu. Everything is aimed at recognition and identification. This impression, however, later proves to be an error. For there never was an already. Yet the silent capital of the works resides in this very error. It leaves the viewer wavering between I already know that and What is that? – and stimulates the reciprocal dynamization of the perceptual process. The image as counterpart is thus produced not by the visual alone, but by the dichotomy of the visual. This dichotomy between visibility and imagination is a glaring one, because the artist casts doubt on the image creation, thereby making it seem credible as a precarious existence. So Korsig’s message is: nothing is more uncertain than an image. What has to be examined in his work groups, therefore, is the contradictoriness of visual communication. This differs from advertising images and figurative paintings in the Pop tradition. It is this contradiction that I would like to explore.

Creative / regressive. Immanuel Kant distinguishes between reflective and determinative judgement. For him, the particular achievement of reflective judgement was that initially it only perceives something – something particular, that escapes identification. The determination – the judgement – then breaks off the reflection. This explains the temporal structure of observation. For reflective judgement precedes determinative judgement. This distinction avoids the deceptive congruence between seeing and naming, between aesthetic experience and rational analysis – and renders every judgement relative. Images can only be read in the plural and thus thwart their own interpretations. Accordingly, aesthetic quality is measured by the response to the question as to whether the constructs can be rationally grasped and limited by a concept or not – vulgo, whether they are graspable or unwieldy, nameable or unnameable, comprehensible or incomprehensible. This Kantian difference can be expanded to include Sigmund Freud’s distinction between creative and regressive imagination. For this difference is linked both with a kind of hovering attentiveness bearing on the unknown (creative), and with a diffuse longing for the origin with a tendency to confirm itself in the known and familiar (regressive) – Odysseus or Narcissus. Korsig emphasises the free flight of reflective attentiveness in his works. For him, the lyrical professional, reconnaissance flights are preferable to self-admiration. Interpreters, however, somehow tend towards regressions.

Local inspection. This can be easily seen in his wall objects. Filigree meshes in a blackish shade mounted on a white wall without frames, they are almost symmetrical – whereby the „almost“ introduces the first problem and contributes to the dynamization. The wall objects are in themselves ramified, with cones, knots and criss-crosses on the inside, while being closed off on the outside; there are no loose or open ends. They suggest a world of their own, like the ink-blot cards in a Rorschach test from out of which figures suddenly emerge: runners, faces, gnarled roots – products of the guided chance aspect of creativity. These unleash chains of associations which have to do, sometimes more, sometimes less, sometimes not at all, with the work – day-dream fantasies. The patterns of the wall objects cast shadows, occupy space, their vague ambivalence heightened by titles such as Metamorphosis, Erase your Past, or Beauty under Construction. Given that the modes of perception depend not so much on knowledge of value as on pleasure, the question that arises is what motivates the pleasure.

Ars Poetica. According to Ezra Pound, three forces are at work in poetry: phaenopoeia (image), melopoeia (sound) and logopoeia (production of meaning). If this model is applied to Korsig’s works, then the realm of perception governs a sound-space of minor tones that suddenly resolves in an image. „W ,e came from the inescapable / and invaded the country“, writes Korsig in one of his large murals; „We screamed into the silence,“ he quotes the poet Scardanelli, „Lit at night by an icy moon“. 2 Korsig is a laconic voice in the echo-space of lyrical abstraction, a voice that avoids emotional storms and drafts strong-sounding images in a Leporello of gloomy haikus. This voice resounds also from the wall objects. The emphasis on the visible and tangible, the sensorium, the body, ambivalent nature and the simultaneous destabilization of the determining force through ambiguities correspond to the ideas of today’s smart ‚expressives‘. They want to be plural in the singular so as to speak of existence, the present, life, in the laboratory of the earth.

Ornament. In the field of art, ambiguities are a strategy for holding works open for ascriptions and appropriations. The clear legibility of the signs (logos) dissolves in polyvalence. This gives rise to an analogy. Just as signs lose their meaning in the infinite repetition of the ornament, so too with Korsig’s wall objects the ascriptions of the interpreters take on the status of an ornament of possible, but in no way compulsory, meanings. For the attractive force of the images and constructs does not lie in the meanings, it lies in the pleasure-producing force that creates a mood of fascinating indecisiveness out of vague meanings and suggestive signs; it is the mood of an ironic melancholic and takes up its position in the tradition of a lyrical abstract Expressionism.

1 Faye Hirsch: Du verwirrst mich. Goliath Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2001. Many commentators have emphasised the ambivalence of Korsig’s works. Cf. Christoph Kellendonk / Gael Mallet: „Where can I buy a new brain?“ in this catalogue, pp. XXX-XXX. Faye Hirsch: Life of Forms. In Bodo Korsig: Fate – Encaustic Paintings, Goliath Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1999. Robert Saltonstall Mattison: Remembrances in ibid.

2 Scardanelli was the name Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843) used in his later years when signing his letters and poems. The Scardanelli Korsig cites is not identical with Scardanelli-Hölderlin; he was born in 1964 and lives in Berlin. Korsig has worked with him on a number of projects. His most recent publications: Hautabziehen. The Alien of Hölderlin, Cyanpress, Berlin 1996. Tod versuche mich. Cyanpress, Berlin 1999.